‘Little House on the Prairie’: Melissa Gilbert Says This Was Michael Landon’s ‘F*ck-You’ to NBC
The classic family series Little House on the Prairie ran on NBC from 1974–1983. Set in the 1870s, the program captured the highs and lows of prairie life as chronicled by Laura Ingalls Wilder in her timeless books.
At some point, of course, the series came to an end. When it did, its director and lead actor Michael Landon was not happy with the circumstances.
And he let NBC know exactly how he felt about it.
The cast member who thought ‘Little House’ would flop
When the historical drama debuted on television in 1974, viewers were used to watching gritty police shows, bionic people, and situation comedies. Little House on the Prairie stuck out with its syrupy sweet story lines and costumes.
In her memoir Confessions of a Prairie B*tch, Alison Arngrim who played difficult-to-like Nellie Oleson on the series, wrote that when she signed on to the show, it seemed unlikely to become a success.
“Nobody, I mean nobody, except for maybe one person, thought for an instant that [the show] would be the phenomenon it turned out to be,” Arngrim wrote. “Obviously, crazy old Michael Landon was way ahead of us all on this one, but I don’t think even he anticipated this level of worldwide ‘cultdom.'”
Michael Landon was furious when NBC canceled ‘Little House’
By 1983, the writing was on the wall regarding the end of the program, as Melissa Gilbert explained in her memoir, Prairie Tale. Gilbert, who played the show’s primary character Laura Ingalls Wilder for nine years, was caught off guard when rumors began to spread of the show’s cancellation.
“I got Mike [Landon] on the phone and asked if we were canceled,” Gilbert wrote. “He said he hadn’t received an official call from the network, but had heard Little House wasn’t listed among the shows on NBC’s fall lineup.”
Landon eventually did receive confirmation that the show would not be returning at all and was incensed that the network hadn’t bothered to reach out to him about it. For the man who had been with NBC since his 1950s Bonanza days, the company’s lack of respect toward him was galling.
“By the time I had called Mike back, he had done his own reconnaissance work and he was furious that he had never received an official phone call from NBC president Brandon Tartikoff or anyone else at the network, letting him know the fate of the show,” Gilbert said.
Landon’s revenge on the network, according to Gilbert
When the final episodes were being planned, the show’s star saw it as his opportunity to exact revenge on the network he had once served so faithfully.
The series finale was titled “The Last Farewell.” In the nearly two-hour special, Walnut Grove is approached by a developer claiming to own all of the land, and demanding that his property be evacuated almost immediately.
The residents of the town decide not to give up without a fight. Instead of surrendering meekly, they each blow up their own homes with dynamite so that the landowner can claim nothing that had been theirs. It was a jarring final episode, as Oleson’s Mercantile and all of the familiar homes are blown to bits one by one.
“That was Mike’s f*ck-you to the network,” Gilbert said. “He didn’t want to leave anything behind. TV and movie sets tend to get recycled over time, and none of us wanted to see Oleson’s Mercantile being used in some other production and have other people tromping through places where many of us had grown up.”